A longtime Roncesvalles destination for vintage clothing, furniture, and other bric-a-brac takes over—appropriately enough—a former Goodwill.
Catherine Huizenga has moved her namesake store, a longtime Roncesvalles destination for vintage clothing, furniture, and other bric-a-brac, just a few blocks down the street into the comparatively massive former home of a Goodwill (21 Roncesvalles Ave.).
How it got started: Huizenga seems to have come by both the retail and the vintage bug quite naturally. “When I was four I had a shop in my grandparents’ garage, full of all the stuff from when they closed down the farm and moved to town,” she says. “Their garage was this magical place where there’d be this beautiful filtered light coming in—I would do displays and play store. My whole life, vintage and secondhand has been my thing. All through high school, which was the ‘80s in Calgary, I wore vintage, which was an anomaly—I was a bit of an anomaly, I was ‘that girl.’”
Despite playing shopkeep at such a young age, when Huizenga started collecting in earnest, it wasn’t with any specific retail objective in mind. “It started out with this stuff that just kept finding me,” she says. “It was all this stuff I couldn’t say no to—it’s always found me.”
Huizenga cycled through a few locations before settling into her space at 121 Roncesvalles for seven and a half years, long enough to witness many of the challenges presented to the neighbourhood by perpetual construction. “I started thinking about a permanent location after doing a couple of travelling magic trunk shows, which are now called pop-ups,” she says. “I was open for two years before they tore up the street for three years, which made it really hard to gauge if it was going to be a successful business or not. We all suffered. Some businesses went by choice and some of them just couldn’t hold on. I never did figure out what you sell to construction workers—I never managed to find the niche.”
Trading spaces: Despite the amount of work that such a major relocation would entail, the initial impetus for the move south was something of a lark. “Two years ago, the Goodwill threatened to close,” says Huizenga. “There was a big neighbourhood uprising and a petition, and then they stayed open for a couple more years. But they actually did leave early in the summer of this year, and the building sat vacant all summer. I have a business partner [Dave Amer] and we said, ‘Just for kicks and giggles, why don’t we go in with a really low-ball offer and see what they say?’, thinking they would never go for it. And bam, they went for it.”
For the past year and a half, Huizenga had also been operating a satellite location of her shop in the Junction. Having consolidated the two storefronts in the move, Huizenga has found herself with some much needed family time. “I have a son,” she says. “And working seven days a week is not conducive to being a good mother, so one store is great and one really big store is ideal.”
With room to stretch out, Huizenga has introduced some order to her merchandising style. “The back storage area is as big as my entire previous store,” she says. “There’s breathing room between vignettes now, so you actually have time to have a thought before looking at the next one, where at the old shop we did have them, but they were just chock-a-block, all on top of each other. It really weeded out those who can handle chaos and those who can’t. That’s my preferred pick—chaos is my element—but almost everybody can handle it in here now.”
Taking over a space that used to house a Goodwill has led to one unexpected consequence. “People still donate stuff on a regular basis,” says Huizenga. “Even though it’s very clearly not a Goodwill, people just dump stuff off in the night and scurry off, so now I do a weekly run to donate to the Goodwill.”
Who shops there: “We talk about it and wonder if there is a particular demographic for us, and I think the honest answer is no,” says Huizenga. “There are girls that frequent the shop routinely on their own now who were coming in when they were six with their mom; now they’re coming in with their friends. One of my best customers is a lovely woman named Sylvia and she’s in her late 80s. We get a really nice cross-section of all age groups—it’s a common love of interesting pieces.”
One commonality amongst Huizenga’s core group of customers is that they tend to live in the area. “Currently it’s mostly locals,” she says. “On the weekends we’re a destination, but I believe that’s because LoRo [Lower Roncesvalles] is a destination, Queen West is a destination, and we’re just a part of that now. In the past there’d been an invisible barrier at Queen and Roncesvalles. If you’re walking down Roncy you hit it and turn around go back up, if you’re coming along Queen you hit it and go back, but it seems like a little bit of a bleed is starting now.”
There is a certain market segment that Huizenga finds herself baffled by. “Men’s vintage is a thing,” she says. “Guys wear it until it falls apart and it smells so bad there’s no coming back from it. And then it just goes I don’t know where. It’s really hard to find quality men’s vintage. So I would say we’re probably about 80% women, and of the menswear that I sell, a good percentage of it is probably bought by girlfriends. I would like to change that ratio, but so far it’s elusive.”
More to come: More space also means more opportunity to branch out. “We’re going to start running auctions,” says Huizenga. “Once a month we’re going to clear away everything and have an auctioneer come in. It’s going to be fresh stuff, picked just for the auction, because there’s an energy about that; it’s not just stuff from the basement that we’re bored of looking at. I’m really excited about that.”